An Open Letter from a Mixed Ugric and Black Heathen:
by Lanaya Winterly...
PaganSquare is a community blog space where Pagans can discuss topics relevant to the life and spiritual practice of all Pagans.
by Lanaya Winterly...
I opened up my Facebook account today and was greeted by a long discussion focusing on cultural appropriation, vis-a-vis belly dancing. It appeared to be based on a Salon article titled "Why I can't stand white belly dancers."
The first thing that struck me was the confrontational nature of the headline: It wasn't belly dancing performed by white people that the author couldn't stand, it was the belly dancers themselves. If this doesn't put people on the defensive, I don't know what will. Then again, it's part of the inflammatory nature of online "journalism" these days, which uses hot-button language to increase the number of hits. (Full disclosure: I'm white, but I'm no belly dancer, and belly dancing isn't something I go out of my way to watch.)...
First, allow me to apologize for being out of the loop for about a month. Between Thanksgiving, holiday shopping, and coming down with some mutant offspring of the bubonic plague, writing anything of merit has been difficult. Second, allow me to also apologize for not having any funny memes in this post; I'm still recovering from the cold and I don't feel particularly equipped for humor. Also, this topic is serious enough that I fear humor would detract from it. Now, with that out of the way, let's move right along.
On December 21st, Heathens United Against Racism will be holding an international event. Heathens, Asatruar, and Norse Polytheists across the world will be raising scorn poles, or Nidstang, against the undesired racialization and radicalization of our religious paths by extremists. Months ago, the founder of that group, (Ryan Smith) asked if some of the membership would be willing to write anything to spread the message. I was eager to assist, but found myself hard pressed to write something I was satisfied with. After some work and soul searching*, I came up with the following thoughts.
Let's cut right to the chase; the racialist minority in Asatru and Heathenry is a group of disturbed people. There is no other way that I can phrase it, and I do not consider such language inflammatory or inaccurate. There is nothing within the history and anthropology of the cultures that first honored the Norse gods which supports a ethnic supremacy mindset. Tellingly, it also possesses no representation within the myths and tales that represent our religious heritage. With these things in mind, it becomes clear what the catalyst for such a philosophy truly is; fearful and/or angry people projecting their own hatred and biases onto a religion in order to give them the pretension of legitimacy. It a tactic that is ages old, and one which causes no lack of frustration and anger.
It is easy to hate such groups. Actually doing it, however, is a trap. In fact, it's the same trap they've fallen into themselves. I'm not going to go forth and do a stupid thing, simply because my reasons have better intentions. Their hate speech is a language of madness. Within that madness, however, is the best solution they think they have to a problem they cannot properly define. They are dangerous people to be sure, but they are also tragic.
I'd say that the actions of many who think like them come from a need to be the victim, and to not be the persecutor. A need to say, “No, really...everything I do isn't related to some irrational fear that equality will lead to me being treated as some of my ancestors may have once treated others! It's a war, and if I don't fight it the white race will be unable to prosper because of....reasons”. A need to find a way to believe that such tripe is actually a valid concern. To say otherwise, in their mind, is to promote white guilt.
Allow me to address that. You see, I'm not a land owner in the pre-civil war South. Further, I'm not a member of the Nationalsozialismus in Holocaust Germany. I didn't hold power in Apartheid era South Africa, nor did I lead Aboriginal Americans to their deaths along the trail of tears. I don't bear shame or guilt for these actions, because I didn't do them. When someone goes to great lengths to legitimize such terrible deeds, they do not appear as men and women who are attempting to triumphantly repeal the march of “Liberal Revisionism” (or whatever the kids are calling it these day); they look like someone who is terrified of being connected to the bad guys. It looks like fear and shame, turned into hate.
So, to such people, I offer a small prayer:
Maybe it won't mean as much because for an alleged "Big Name Pagan / BNP", my name is pretty small outside a relatively tiny circle of Hellenists and other traditional polytheists, and it's not like I've moved my spiritual blogging to mostly over here... hell, I can barely keep to the minimum of a single post here a month, but I've researched some recent drama, weighed the words and intent (or at least likely intent) of all sides, and I've decided to step down from PaganSquare.
Racism is the gigantic elephant in the room for traditional polytheism -- too many use their religious practises as an excuse for racism and vice-versa. While, true, Heathenry has the biggest reputation for racism, here's the thing: There is not a single recon religion without its racist baggage in some form. I've met Neonazi Celtic Recons passing out literature at the Celtic Festival in Saline, Michigan, back when I was in high school. In more recent years, I've seen Hellenists in North America describe Hellenismos as "kinda like Asatru, but for the Greek pantheon and, best of all -- no Nazis! ^_^" and then ten minutes later encounter Hellenic polytheists from all over the globe say some of the most appallingly racist filth. Hell, at least the LaVeyans and Boyd Rice fanboys I used to hang with during my misspent youth had the decency to try and hide it....
Today I was chatting with my colleague Ochani Lele (who will be appearing on Wyrd Ways Radio on June 5), author of "Sacrificial Ceremonies of Santeria: A Complete Guide to the Rituals and Practices," "Diloggun Tales of the Natural World," and several other books. We were discussing our respective Holy Powers when he asked me a question that made me stop and, after answering it, ask him if he'd mind me using it as a question here. During the course of our conversation, he said to me:
"You know . . . having Jewish blood, I've always been a bit afraid of Norse religion. Just out of curiosity, how do you think your gods would react to someone with Jewish blood taking up their worship? Would they respond? Would they accept? What about an African, or an African American? How would the Norse gods respond to such a person? Are they beyond racial boundaries, like the Orishas? I'm assuming they would be . . . but assumptions often get me in trouble. What are your thoughts on that?"...